Saturday, September 7, 2019

Rosa Parks Barbie and the Remarkable Woman Who Inspired the Doll

A stock photo of the Rosa Parks Barbie includes the doll and the iconic image of Mrs. Rosa Parks seated on a Montgomery, Alabama bus.  The photo of Mrs. Parks was taken on December 21, 1956, to reenact the historic event of December 1, 1955, when Mrs. Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white male passenger.  Her passive resistance that day led to her arrest and a citywide Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted a year until the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery's segregated bus system was illegal.  Loss of capital from a city of African Americans who refused to continue riding segregated buses undoubtedly influenced the Supreme Court's decision; however, it was Rosa Parks' courage that ignited the change.

To honor Mrs. Parks for her courageous work in the Civil Rights Movement, Mattel has included a doll in her likeness in their Inspiring Women series.

Actual photos of my doll (still in the box) and photos taken by Romona Jennings of her doll posed outside the box are included in this image-intense post.

The Rosa Parks Barbie is presented in a box that has the inside of a bus as the background. The iconic image of Mrs. Parks is in the lower-left corner of the box.  In addition to the doll, a doll stand and a certificate of authenticity are included.
While the doll does not have a dedicated head sculpt, I appreciate the sculpt used (described as FNJ40/Alec on the Barbie/Mattel website).  Barbie Fashionista #82  uses this sculpt, which appropriately captures Mrs. Park's facial features.  The complexion is also correct.  The doll's glasses are similar to those worn by Mrs. Parks.

The same iconic image of Mrs. Parks in a larger size is on the back of the box above the words:
Rosa Parks
Civil Rights Activist
(1913 - 2005)
The text on the back of the box is shown above and copied below:
"Each person must live their life as a model for others." – Rosa Parks

Barbie® recognizes all female role models.  The Inspiring Women Series™ pays tribute to incredible heroines of their time; courageous women who took risks, changed rules, and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before.  

Rosa Louise Parks led an ordinary life as a seamstress until an extraordinary moment on December 1, 1955.  When she refused an order to give up her seat to a white passenger and move to the back of the bus, Mrs. Parks' act of defiance became the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Rosa Parks' quiet strength played a notable role in the civil rights movement, but it would still take another nine years and more struggles before the 1964 Civil Rights Act overruled existing [segregations] laws.  Hailed as "the Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement," Rosa Parks earned worldwide recognition and numerous awards including the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

Girls need more role models like Rosa Parks, because imagining they can be anything is just the beginning.  Actually seeing that they can makes all the difference.

Ms. Jennings graciously shared the following photos of her deboxed Rosa Parks Barbie and answered my questions regarding the quality of the doll's clothing.

The doll's gray wool-type jacket is stitched closed, which makes it difficult to seat her.

Underneath the unlined coat, she wears a tan and beige floral-print sleeveless dress with dark gray mock-lace oxfords.

Her dress has an unfortunate Velcro closure in back.

Here is a closer look at her period-appropriate shoes.
She wears a pillbox hat that has a faux white flower on the side.

Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail with the ends tucked under.

She holds a black clutch (which Romona has left inside the plastic that keeps it attached to her gloved hand).
In these next photos, Romona has created several backdrops that recount the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama bus incident and the events that followed.

Standing in front of images of Rosa Parks, the Rosa Parks Barbie holds newspapers.  One has a headline about her arrest; the other headlines the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began on December 5, 1955, four days after Mrs. Parks' arrest.
The doll stands before additional images of Mrs. Parks. 
Mrs. Parks was only 42 on December 1, 1955.  The Rosa Parks Barbie appropriately represents a woman of this age.  In this photo and the one immediately below, the doll stands in the forefront of an image of a more mature Mrs. Parks that includes one of her quotes that reads, "You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right."

There are buy pages for the Rosa Parks Barbie at the Barbie/Mattel website and Walmart where the dolls are "flying off the Internet shelves" as quickly as ordering is made available.  This is proof that dolls like this are very much desired when they adequately portray the people they represent.  With the exception of a few complaints from folks that Mattel's description on the back of the doll's box lacks completeness, doll collectors seem to overall appreciate Mattel's efforts in the production of this doll.  No one else has mass-produced a doll in Mrs. Park's honor.

For those who desire more information about Mrs. Parks beyond what Mattel provided on the back of the box, I have added the following additional details about her remarkable life which is followed by a video.

Birth: Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Education:  At age 16, she left high school in grade 11 to care for her grandmother and later for her ailing mother.  She went back and completed high school in 1933 and attended Alabama State College.
Marriage:  In 1932, she married Raymond Parks, who was a barber and also a civil rights activist.  It was Mr. Parks who encouraged her to complete her high school education.
Employment:  Mrs. Parks "worked as a clerk, an insurance salesperson, and a tailor's assistant at a department store.  She was also employed at the time [of her arrest on December 1, 1955] as a part-time seamstress by Virginia and Clifford Durr, two white residents of Montgomery who were staunch supporters of the black freedom struggle." [1]  After moving to Detroit in 1957, she worked as a seamstress.  From 1965 through 1988 she was an administrative assistant for Congressman John Conyers.
Civil Rights Involvement:  Mrs. Parks' involvement in the struggle for civil rights began as early as the 1930s.  She and her husband supported the Scottsboro Boys (nine black teenagers falsely accused of raping two white women on a train in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931).  Additionally, she joined the Montgomery NAACP in 1943, worked as a youth advisor, served as NAACP secretary from 1943 to 1956, and "helped operate the joint office of the NAACP and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters." [2]  She also worked with the Montgomery Voter's League to increase voter registration amongst blacks.  While living in Detroit, she was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and she participated in numerous marches and rallies including the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery as part of a voting rights campaign for blacks.  A lifelong activist, in the mid-1980s "she was a supporter of the free South Africa movement and walked the picket lines in Washington, D.C., with other antiapartheid activists." [3]
Awards:  "Parks, an international symbol of African-American strength, has been given numerous awards and distinctions, including ten honorary degrees.  In 1979, she was awarded the NAACP's prestigious Spingarn Medal.  In 1980, she was chosen by Ebony [magazine] readers as the living black woman who had done the most to advance the cause of black America.  In the same year, she was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr., Nonviolent Peace Prize by the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change.  In addition, the SCLC has honored her by sponsoring the annual Rosa Parks Freedom Award."[4]   On what would have been her 100th birthday, on February 4, 2013, Rosa Parks was honored with a U. S. Postage Forever Stamp.

 Mrs. Parks speaks in the short video below.

The Rosa Parks Barbie indeed honors a woman who was not ordinary.  She was a woman of extraordinary deeds and accomplishments in the area of civil rights.   Thank you, Mattel, for honoring Rosa Parks.  I believe she would be pleased.

In her own words, Mrs. Parks described the Montgomery bus incident as follows,

"I was quite tired after spending a full day working.  The section of the bus where I was sitting was what we called the colored section.  Just as soon as enough white passengers got on the bus to take what we consider their seats and then a few over, that meant that we would have to move back for them even though there was no room to move back.  It was an imposition as far as I was concerned."[5]

With the stitch in the coat removed, Romona Jennings' Rosa Parks Barbie is able to sit more comfortably.

Thank you for remaining seated, Mrs. Parks.

Related Links:
More Complete List of Awards
The Man Behind Rosa Parks (in the bus ride reenactment photo)
Rosa Parks, Black History Biographies


1.  Jack Saltzman, "Rosa Parks Quiet Woman Starts a Race Revolution on the Bus," MacMillan
      Information Now Encyclopedia, The African-American Experience, (New York:
      MacMillan Library Reference, 1993) 461.
2.  ibid
3.  ibid
4.  ibid
5.  Charles H. Wesley, "Direct Action and Passive Resistance–the Struggle to Let Freedom
     Ring," International Library of Negro Life and History the Quest for Equality from Civil War to
     Civil Rights, (New York, Washington, London:  Publishers Company, Inc., 1970), 246

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  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. I’m really pleased that Mattel created this doll. As someone who grew up during the Civil Rights movement, I think we all need to be reminded of the courage and sacrifice made by all those who participated.

    1. Wendy, you are welcome! Thank you for taking time to read this post.

      I was 6 months old the day Mrs. Parks was arrested. So I, too, grew up during the 1950s-1960s struggle for civil rights. While we have progressed as a nation through laws that ended segregation and improved the rights of voters, in recent years, stark regression has taken place in other areas of civil human rights. The struggle continues.


  2. I just love this doll! She's got gloves and everything, just like a sixties lady should! She looks just like Miss Rosa, too.

    1. Dress gloves were a staple during that era. I wore them too as a child on special occasions. My mother usually wore them every Sunday (leather in various arm lengths) during the winter.


  3. Thank you for sharing Romona's photos with us. I really like the fact that she used the dolls with some actual photos of Madame rosa Parks.

    1. You're welcome, Arlette. Romona has a gift of creating beautiful and relative doll photography backdrops.

  4. Thank you for posting such a beautiful BEAUTIFUL post!!!!


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